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September 21, 2005


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Well it seems this discussion ended a few months ago, but I still want to give my thoughts. I also read the NYT article when it was published, and it prompted me to do a lot of thinking. I am currently a 20-year old student at the University of Pennsylvania (not Penn State- we are one of the article's featured Ivies). When I imagine my life in 10 years, I want very much to be a mother with an excellent family life. I also want desperately to be working in advertising and design. I know from my experience with peers that girls are thinking about these things earlier on, and I think it's a good thing we are at least acknowledging the issue. I know girls who plan on staying home and having children right after school, girls who plan on volunteering while they stay home, those who want to work part-time, those who are counting on flexible work policies from their employers, those who don't want kids at all (at this point), those who want kids but will use childcare, and those who just don't know what life will bring. I only know one guy who has expressed any concern about managing family life with career...(and I snagged him for myself pretty quick!)

Anyway, there are so many ways to work it out. Certainly staying home with children is a wonderful thing for some women. I can identify with the women who have posted here defending their choice to devote themselves entirely to their children. I can tell you all are so passionate about the experience of being there full-time during your chilren's first years (or even beyond), and I am glad you have been able to make it work for you. Rasing children and managing a household is one of the most important, critical jobs that keeps our society together. Personally, I think those of you who have chosen this job should get more credit. We, as a society, need to start defining "work" as including child-rearing and household chores with actual value comparable to any job done outside the home. (In my opinion, this means classifying "SAHM" as something other than "no occupation" on the census and creating some kind of tax credit as "salary." I know this may sound weird, and I have not personally thought of all the details, but seriously- it is only fair...so many people here have commented on the tradeoff of sacrificing serious income for the duty and honor of staying home).

MY VERY STRONG CONCERN is for these women who cannot make that choice to stay home AND for the women who simply do not choose to stay home. The women who cannot afford to choose end up neglected by the system-- at my school, there is so much discussion in business classes about this being a PERSONAL decision. The reality for these women is that there are no choices at all! We need public, social, institutionalized solutions to allow even these women of limited incomes to stay home with their children if they want.

Also, the sense I have gotten from countless discussions (at my school, on TV, in the article, even on this discussion board) is that women who can afford to stay home but choose not to are the ones being judged and insulted the most. So often I hear the argument, "She leaves her child in daycare?! How horrible! What a bad mother." Or "Motherhood is the greatest job in the world. What's wrong with her for just rejecting it?"...as if motherhood is synonymous with womanhood or humanity). There is a lot of glorification of stay-at-home moms going on- It is indeed a full-time job, and I discussed above how I think it does deserve plenty of glorification in its own right. But not at the expense of mothers employed outside the home. I know many people posting here have managed both careers inside and outside the home, and to me that is just astounding. I don't think I personally would be able to do both as well as I'd like to under those circumstances. It is my opinion that TO MANY WOMEN, it is not an option to do both. Two full-time jobs is too much for many people.

Here's how I think we need to change things so that EVERY person (man or woman)-- with whatever preferences, interests, talents, moral beliefs, and aspirations she/he may have-- can make the choice:

1). Institutionalize tax credit for SAHMs, because it IS a full-time job.

2). Offer better childcare so parents do not have to worry about overcrowding and neglect. Childcare should be a RIGHT for all parents. Either give working parents a tax credit to help pay for daycare if there is no one to stay home OR make it a government service OR put pressure (legislation would be good) on firms to offer childcare on premises for its employees.

3). Firms have to offer flexible work policies- like flextime and flexplace- to allow both parents to be more present at home if they so desire.

4). Offer PAID maternity and paternity leave for all employees for a limited period of time during pregnancy and immediately after the birth of a child.

5). For parents (male or female) who choose to stay at home longer-term, firms should have agencies to keep men and women updated on industry developments, connected to company networks, up to date on training and certification programs, etc. Currently women who stay home (I say women, because it still happens to be mostly women) for a period of time and attempt to re-enter the workforce (that is, if you do not include parenting and household management in the workforce) have considerable trouble. "Opting out" is much easier than "opting" back in. Employers point to the experience lost and decay of knowledge as legitimate reasons not to hire these women. We need some kind of resources for stay-at-home parents who intend to return.

6). All the wonderful people with children- whether they stay home or not- should raise their sons with the expectation that THEY TOO will one day have to make this decision. We cannot put it all on our daughters.

Well, I guess that's my 2 cents worth. I hope this wasn't too unbearably lengthy. I'd like to know what others think.


I know I'm a bit late, but since this is a hot topic for me, I have to comment. Julie, you ask in a comment why working and raising children are "constantly presupposed to be mutually exclusive?" I think you have the part of the answer in the common attitude you echo to part-time work (I think this is what Alice was saying).

If part-time work - for both men and women - was considered possible, normal, valuable, then the struggle to balance career and family lives could be much less.

I will admit to my own biases up front. I work part-time, and so does my husband, because we have been quite committed to keeping our son out of childcare (and when I was 20, no, I hadn't ever considered how this would all work, beyond getting my fairly standard - in Australia - year of (unpaid) maternity leave). I'm not saying childcare, or parents who work full-time, are evil. Just that this was and is our preference.

And I have a meaningful 22.5 hour/week job, which for the most part I keep to those hours. I also know that I am incredibly lucky to have this - it's not something that is available to everyone.

But, for the period I've been working part-time, now 2.5 years, it has been up and down. Most of the time the work has been okay, some of the time it has sucked, and all of the time I can say I have missed out on opportunities because of my part-time status. Ditto for my husband (who works 24 hours). The opportunities missed are probably greater for me, though that's at least as much a function of where we each work as of our sex. I have also at times been under a lot of pressure to increase my hours, which has contributed to two job changes (though within the same general career).

So I agree with you, the discussion should be about how we can open up the choices, for men and women, to provide whatever balance will work for their families. It should not be just about what choices individuals are making, but about what choices society is supporting.

And I very specifically include men in my equation, not to be PC, but because I believe that as long as we focus primarily on creating choice for women, nothing will change fast. Partly because our societies always start to value things more as soon as men commenly do them (part-time work, for instance, I hope) and partly because if men in general continue along their societally predetemined paths of full-time work, regardless of children, then for women, in general, to 'have it all' they will continue to have to 'do it all'. And I'm not up for that.

I agree with the commenter (I forget who, sorry) who would like to see the back of the superwoman myth. Sure, it is possible to be a full-time worker and raise children, and maybe they will even be wonderful well balanced children, and maybe they will benefit - and see themselves as having benefited - from having working parents. But don't for a minute tell me that that happens without making sacrifices. That those parents don't feel (like the rest of us) like they are constantly juggling, trying to find a balance that they can live with - perhaps one that changes from day to day or year to year, because really being a parent is a demanding career, and so is working 50 hours a week as a journalist, and so is trying to fit in meaningful time with a significant other if you have one.

It's not that working full time and raising kids is impossible, it's just that it's not any easier than working part-time and raising kids, or working part-time, studying part-time, trying to create a different career as a writer (part-time) and raising kids (not that I'm speaking from experience or anything). Or being a SAHM and trying to hang on to what your identity was before kids, and figure out what it's becoming, and stay sane in between wiping noses and reading that same book AGAIN, and answering all those same questions. Any way you work it, it's hard.

(Hmm long comment, sorry. Maybe I should have just written my own blog post and sent a trackback...)


A few updates:
Slate's Jack Shafer has published a follow-up about Louise Story's research for this story. And here's another follow-up that puts the facts in perspective.


There are several things wrong with this story, not the least of which is the shoddy research (how on earth did this pass through editing?!), but what really irks me is the notion that women who leave the workforce to become mothers are throwing away their education. I may be naive, but I thought that the point of getting an education was to learn how to think creatively and gain a deeper understanding of the world -- things that are very helpful in being a mom!

When will Motherhood be recognized as an "Art" and "Science" worthy of scholarly thought, like Sociology, Psychology, etc?

The day they they start handing out doctorates in Momology is the day I know we've reached true gender equality.


I'm also a graduate of an "elite" women's college (as is my mother), and I cringed when I read this. I come from a family of strong, well-educated women. My mother and both of my grandmothers have their post-graduate degrees and all were/are career women. I've had it instilled in me from day one that you can work and have a family - and I saw that in my own family. I do agree that there needs to be significantly more societal support (mandatory paid 12-week maternity leave, for example), but honestly? It IS doable. Take me, for example. I'm 26 years old. I'm married, I have a 1 year old, I work full time in a large international law firm. I'm in my 3rd year of law school taking 4 classes a semester. My "societal support group" is my husband - amazing guy that he is - and my friends and family who pay us visits or check up on us every now and then. It just completely galls me that women just a few years younger than me think that this is impossible - when it's not! Rant over. :-)


I too devoted an entire website to this exact topic, (although I get off-topic now and again:)

I think the bottom line is, as the professor stated in the article, women have been given access to full time work without any societal support.

That is the fundamental problem. Not which choice is right for which woman.

We've made the first step in the "women's movement" - that women are no longer banned from work they can do well. We need to take the next steps, to accomodate women as women - that we are the ones with the wombs and need to be able to care for our children for sometime, whether three months or ten years.

And then be able to pick up our careers, either out of desire or economic necessity.

(When are employers going to welcome women (or men) back who took time for family? And not on the "exception" basis?)

It's good these women know children will affect their lives. It's a shame they don't seem to realize they may want something for themselves, and they may well need to be able to support themselves as well.

They are as naive as we were, only in different ways.


Interesting comments here, all. Some understandable defensiveness about one's own personal choices being under attack, but that's perhaps to be expected around a topic as important as this, where just about everyone has an opinion, and even some issues around their choices/lack thereof.

Here's my perspective, for whatever it's worth to you. I'm a female, 30-year-old white collar professional from a blue collar background, married to a 30-year old white collar professional from a similar background. We're not planning on kids anytime soon, if ever-- but life is long, and as some of you have said we'll probably feel differently at 45!

Our frame of reference: both my husband's mother and my own mother stayed home with us until the youngest kids reached 5th grade or so. Then they had challenges reentering the workforce with obsolete skills, so had to go back for schooling. Now these women are in their late 50's, both got royally screwed in recent divorces from our asshole fathers, and but for our help would be financially insecure, and on top of that, they live with chronic health problems as a result of vaginal deliveries. They have to work in jobs they personally despise (secretary and nurse) in order to maintain insurance coverage for their aforementioned health issues. They're miserable right now and have said they feel "cheated." Unfortunately, they'd really like a grandchild...

My husband and I are left to wonder: while we're obviously grateful to be alive, were all of the commonly-told joys of birthing and raising kids *truly* worth the lifelong struggles that seem to disproportionately impact phenomenal women like our mothers?

Do people today truly have sufficient information/ self-knowledge/ social support to make these important choices?

I'd much rather read an article in a major newspaper that tackled issues like that instead of recounting the Pollyanna viewpoints of some book smart, teenage Yalies-- whose views perhaps are of some value to someone, but really don't help the public to be more informed about the larger issues at stake.


I'm so grateful for all these good comments. First, I want to apologize if I somehow suggested that I'm opposed to mothers staying home with their children. I'm all for it. And I'm all for mothers working if that's what they want (from home or outside the home).

What frustrates me is the fact that women still have such limited choices. What frustrates me even more (and I feel especially bad if I've become guilty of this) is that we judge women -- and their parenting -- based on the choices they make about how to balance work and family.

So yes, I am frustrated. I love my job, my son, my husband; I love to read and write and go swimming. And I wish I had more time for all of them. But I'm not frustrated by -- or angry at -- mothers with other preferences.

I'm frustrated that all women don't feel "able to choose." I wish every mother had access to quality child care if that's what she wants or the kind of support she'd need in order to stay home. I'm frustrated that sometimes we blame each other rather than taking social action to change our collective circumstances so that mothers could raise their children whatever way they believe is best.

I don't want or mean to judge mothers for the choices they make and I'm so sorry that my comments left readers feeling that way. I'm very, very sorry for that.


I agree with Elise! Thanks for saying what I wanted to say. I've been stewing about this DotMoms post since yesterday, but hadn't figured out exactly what I wanted to say in a comment. Now I can just say DITTO.


Whether you meant it or not, your post came acrossed as very judgemental. While reading it I felt unhappy and judged. I went to college, became an engineer and worked for six years. I've stayed home for the past 13 years being a mom to my kids. As you can see I made the same kind of choices that you seem to be criticizing. Its as if you believe that by staying home full time we have somehow betrayed our rights as women. I believe that people should be able to make these kinds of choices without being judged. There is no need to critique another woman's plans and/or choices in order to make your own choices feel more right.
Also, I believe if we all had to pass a test in order to have kids, none of us would be having kids! I am not scared of that young woman having children, she will learn what she needs to learn, just as we all did. She'll never be perfect, but I would not want anyone analyzing my childrearing capabilites!


I had many ambitions and goals when I was 20 that no longer apply at 30. Heck, I didn't even want kids when I was 20.

I've been a highly successful business woman in a male-dominated profession (construction) since my college graduation. I had to claw my way into my industry, and I still have to prove myself on a regular basis. I'm now a well-respected person in my business community and about to make the leap to starting my own business. However, my kids are my biggest achievement - PERIOD.

My husband and I have often struggled with whether or not to have one of us stay home with our twins. Ironically, we'd both love to be selected as the stay-at-home parent. However, due to our financial circumstances and starting a new business, we can't manage that financially.

I think it's refreshing that in the last ten years (since I graduated from college), that it's okay for an intelligent woman to say I can have it all. I can have a good education, a career, and when it's time to have kids, I can shift my focus to them. When I was in college, women who admitted that were referred to "as looking for their MRS degree".

I look at my current life expectancy, and I do not plan on retiring until my mid-70s. Not because we won't be able to financially, but I figure if I live until I'm 100, I'll be bored if I retire at 55. I believe that my current career will last until my mid-40s or early 50s. At that point, I plan on another college degree and career in an undetermined field. So, I think these young women have the ability to have multiple careers in their lifetime, including being a stay-at-home mom if they so chose.


As a SAHM who went to a decent enough university, I found myself agreeing with the article on many points. Ten years ago when I was in college, I don't think we ever discussed SAHMhood yet I find myself surrounded by smart similarly-aged who have made that choice.

Then I read your response to the article.

Only then did I realize that both the article and such responses to it could be used as more fodder in the "Mommy Wars."


For some people it really is a choice and for some it is not. Nobody ever said life was going to be fair that way, but I'd be willing to bet that Ivy League alumnae are more likely than the average college graduate to find husbands that can allow them that choice.


I haven't read every comment, but I have to say that the feeling that I am getting is that Julie is incredibly frustrated with her life. I don't understand this huge amount of anger and contempt towards women who have decided that they don't feel that their quality of life will be enhanced by trying to have a super-charged career at the same time as they are raising their family. I have a masters in Economics and a masters in Accounting (degrees earned at top level universities in three different countries) and I started my own petroleum consulting business when I was 28, doing strategy consulting for the majors. I am now 31 and after taking a break for a year while I was pregnant and had my first child, I am trying to decided if I want to take on another project or not. I never thought I would want to be a stay at home mom, but I don't want the stress that would be involved with trying to manage my work to the level that I demand of myself while I am trying to take care of my daughter. Its not even about her so much as it is about me. I want a good quality of life. Slaving over my computer for money is (sometimes but not always) intellectually satsifying. But ultimately, if financially I have the choice, I choose to spend my time doing other things. I am secure enough that I don't have to prove anything to anyone about how smart I am or how capable I am. I feel like a lot of women need to do it all because they have to prove something and if that makes them happy they are welcome to it. I am the only one from my group of girlfriends from boarding school or university who is married with a child and I am the envy of all of the them. These women are all highly educated and highly successful, and when I talk about how I might not go straight back to work, no one argues for being superwoman, but they all tell me how lucky I am to be able to choose to stay home and have that life. Even my male friends and collegues have supported this decision. I think that people in general are far more sensitive to quality of life issues. Julie's entire attitude just baffles me.


Julie, wow you really hit a hot topic here. I think I get your point, that we women should be able to work AND raise our children - and having just begun to deal w/ this dilemma, I find that my son is a much bigger priority to me than I ever believed possible. At the same time, I don't want to lose my identity in just being Mom, which seems to be something these college students haven't considered.

During my maternity leave, I started my blog and have enjoyed sharing my knowledge more than I can put into words. I've also learned some html and really kept my mind active. Without my blog, as my husband pointed out, I would have been playing video games when I wasn't changing diapers, playing with Alex, making dinner or cleaning the house. (My darling husband doesn't mind that I don't cook every night or vaccum or do laundry because I've been too busy blogging when I could get on the computer.)

I've come to realize the importance of doing things that make me feel fulfilled outside of mommyhood, and I think that's what was missing from all those quotes by those young women. Being a parent is unique and fulfilling in its own way, but I know I can't be happy if I'm just Mommy. I want to be Mommy plus more!


I got here from Ethan Leib's blog. Like Rayne, I'm a law student mom who just resumed after a year off. It's hectic, but we are all happy.

Lots of comments, but of course I am very short on time, so I'll confine myself to comments on what Mia said above:

I too worked in a daycare, and found it such a positive experience that when my son was 10 months we started him in mornings daycare. He is thriving there: he took his first steps the afternoon of his first day because he saw other kids walking. Playgroups are simply not a substitute for true peer interaction for kids. Since we don't have casual neighborhoods where lots of kids see each other daily, daycare is one of the best ways to approximate that experience.

I do believe not all kids are ready for it, but I think if the daycare is high quality, most children benefit, and they benefit from a very early age. Kids learn things from other kids that they simply cannot learn from adults.

I did childcare for years before going to school, and the story is just so much more complex than SAHM = good, working mom = bad.

Dick Meyer

I posted on this article too on a new blog that I supervise: http://www.cbsnews.com/sections/publiceye/main500486.shtml

My perspective on the The Offending story was different from the posters here. I lokked at that first as a journalist, and from that perspective it was very weak, obviously.

These posts are all interesting and very personal. My reaction was pretty impersonal. I just found so bizarre the notion, which the author seemed to take seriously, that education should be rationed to workers -- narrowly -- defined. Especially since she could find no make to make that argument in the piece.

My reaction to this thread is that I dearly wish the conversation on our blog were half as intelligent (and voluminous).

To jmoos: thanks for steering us here.

Dick Meyer

Mia C.

I think it is a matter of personal experience. These are mine.
1.) No one will ever take care of your kids the way you do. I know this because I've worked in childcare. Sure, there are kids you're fond of, kids you loathe, but at no point did I have the feelings or the will to throw myself in front of a car for them.
2.) Children under age 3 in daycares do not get the one-on-one attention they need. I worked for a company that went around and did daycare kids school portraits and in every one children under the age of three clamored around us (complete strangers)and cried to be picked up and held. I twas awful.
3. Maybe these girls could spend their non-parenting years reforming the childcare system instead of getting law degrees.
4. Every person you let into a child's life influences them. My mother still says one of my biggest childhood influences was my ballet teacher. I picked up her mannerisms. If your child spends forty hours or more a week with a daycare provider, you are not their biggest influence.
5. I actually felt sort of vindicated by this article, because at least now they know the truth. Yes, you can have it all, but somewhere something has to give. And for the first few years of my life, I don't want it to be my kids. I don't want to miss out.
6. I realize not everyone has this option due to economic necessities. I also realize women who are miserable at home with their kids should not stay home home with them. But I hate perpetuating the myth that SuperWoman really exists. I bought it and now it just seems unrealistic.



I have no doubt that you're right -- my defense of my own choices has led me to insult others and I'm sorry. That was not my intent. Let me clarify so we can at least all know what my biases are and what was simply sloppy writing.

I have worked both part-time and full-time and have never been able to make a 20-hour/week job fit within 20 hours (of course, I typically work about 50 hours a week instead of 40 so that may have more to do with me). I've known many women who worked part-time while raising children and with the exception of a few lucky ones, it has meant either sacrificing meaningful work or doing a full-time job and getting paid for part-time work. I'm very skeptical about this as an option for the masses, although it's wonderful when it works.

I absolutely agree that women can and do decide once they have children that they want to spend more time with them (I decided once I was married to change my name, even though I would never have believed such a thing was possible in my single state). My point was simply that there's a difference between changing your life as circumstances and needs/desires change and changing your aspirations -- perhaps even aspiring "down" (yes, this is a bias, down from "having it all," however messy that is).

I'm not sure you understood my "working versus raising children" position. Which is this: why can't it be working AND raising children. Why are they constantly presupposed to be mutually exclusive? It sounds like you and your husband have been able to make choices that allow for both. Why can't our collective discourse allow for both?

Yes, I am scared that this young woman -- who I believe has only a tenuous understanding of what she might face as a parent -- will be raising a child. That would scare me whether she stayed home or was employed outside the home. I'm one of those freaks who believes it might be a good idea if we had to pass some minimally-intrusive test before becoming licensed to breed, just as we do before becoming licensed to drive.

I am convinced that this young woman *will* see why it won't work if she's like most of us, unless by "work" she means be exhausting, demoralizing and endlessly frustrating. It isn't that she's choosing family over career that I find unworkable, it's her utter ignorance about the factors that affect balancing work and family.

Let me just reiterate what I stipulated before: I do have a bias. I made a choice. And for me it was the right one. I don't presume to know what's right for other people, nor do I mean to debate it. What I know -- without a doubt -- is right for all women is that they have a wide range of choices from which to choose. If we continue to divide ourselves into groups that evalute which choices are preferable, then we lose sight of the larger point, which is that our collective fate is tied up in our individual fates. And so is the fate of our children.

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